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Anti-vaxxers: a menace to society

A New York suburb hit by a measles outbreak has declared a state of emergency and banned non-vaccinated children from public places in a bid to prevent the disease from spreading this recent outbreak has been considered to be an entirely avoidable emergency. There have been 153 confirmed cases by the public health officials as people who oppose vaccination, or as they are popularly called “anti-vaxxers” are seemingly responsible for the outbreak.

Measles is a highly infectious viral illness. It causes a range of symptoms including fever, coughing and distinctive red-brown spots on the skin. The measles virus is contained in the millions of tiny droplets that come out of the nose and mouth when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

A measles outbreak in Cuba in 1529 killed two-thirds of the natives who had previously survived smallpox. Two years later, measles was responsible for the deaths of half the population of in Honduras, Mexico Central America. Between 1855 and 2005, measles has been estimated to have killed about 200 million people worldwide especially in Hawaii, Republic of Fiji and Andaman Island.

The MMR vaccine is a vaccine against measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles) was developed in the 1960s and was quickly developed. Measles was declared wiped out in the United States of America in 2000 but has since come roaring back due to the fact that parents failing to immunize their children. 47 of the 50 states in the United States of America, including New York, allow vaccination exemptions for religious reasons.

The first dose is usually given to children around 9 to 15 months of age, with a second dose at 15 months to 6 years of age. After two doses, 97% of people are protected against measles, 88% against mumps, and at least 97% against rubella.

In the USA, when children enroll in school in the city where there are presumably exemptions to vaccination, their parents are required to present their vaccination records, unless they go downtown to a special office where, by pretending to be devout, they can be excused from the requirement.

Anti-vaxxers promote a series of views; they range from the theory that vaccines contain dangerously high levels of toxins to the belief that vaccines can cause autism. Researchers have discredited such theories severally, and the compelling scientific consensus is that vaccines save lives and potential side effects are both rare and minimal.

The advantages of vaccination have not stopped some skeptical parents from delaying vaccinating their children or refusing to vaccinate them altogether. They (anti-vaxxers) have also taken to the social media to propagate conspiracy theories about Big Pharma and the government.

Facebook announced recently that it will be removing anti-vaxx groups from ads and recommendation and it will make it more difficult for users to find pages and post using the search tool.

Although Facebook owns Instagram, Instagram will also stop recommending scientifically inaccurate information about vaccines on its “Explore” and “Hashtag” pages.

Buzzfeed reported recently that due to the policy change by Facebook and Instagram, Youtube has pledged to demonetize all anti-vaxx content because “anti-vaccine content falls under its harmful or dangerous content advertising policy”.

Amazon has taken steps to remove books promoting the theories that vaccines cause autism, including anti-vaccine documentaries like Vaxxed; GoFundMe has also banned fundraising campaigns from anti-vaxxers, though they made a point of saying that such campaigns are “extremely rare”.

The policy changes on the social media was prompted by pressure from legislators like Rep. Adam Schiff in the USA, who has been vocal in the fight against promoting misinformation about vaccines, and government organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA), which wrote a letter to social media platforms encouraging them to curb the excesses of anti-vaxxers’ messaging.

The president and CEO of AMA said in his letter that, “With public health on the line and with social media serving as a leading source of information for the American people, we urge you to do your part to ensure that users have access to scientifically valid information on vaccinations, so they can make informed decisions about their families’ health.”

Anti-vaxxers are not happy with the recent changes in the social media sphere. They are accusing private companies of being swayed by government interest and are crying foul over censorship. It is uncertain if all efforts by social media companies’ to silence anti-vaxxers will work or if they will find another platform to sell their theories.

The rise in measles all over the world is fast becoming a trend, in Ireland, Minister for Health, Simon Harris made a strong statement recently condemning anti-vaxxers and saying that they need to be called out. He made these comments as the country mourned heroic HPV vaccine campaigner Laura Brennan.

According to Irish Central, Minister Harris claimed that there was still damage being done by anti-vaccination groups, stating that mistruths they spread must be called out. 

“We really need to call on the anti-vaxxers to cop on; we need to call them out,” he said.

The Minister was also critical of his fellow TDs (members of the Irish parliament) who he claims are as much to blame for spreading misinformation about vaccinations. 

“They continue to send representations to me questioning the benefits of vaccinations about constituent X and Y,” Harris claimed. 

Unvaccinated children are an enormous health risk to the general public, especially at schools and other places where large groups of young people gather.

Australia’s government, which is conservative, has introduced a controversial plan called “No Jab, No Pay.” It means that if you don’t vaccinate you don’t get any government welfare benefits.

Almost 40,000 Australian children under seven have not been vaccinated because their parents are anti-vaxxers, that means a lot of families will lose their payments.

For the rest of us who are not anti-vaxxers, the only sanction is to turn failure to vaccinate into a much greater social taboo. In the meantime, appeal to the government all over the world to intervene perhaps like the Australian and French government did and adopt harsher laws against anti-vaxxers.

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